Alex Kurtzman has written movies about giant robots from outer space (Transformers), cowboys and aliens (Cowboys & Aliens), runaway clones (The Island) and Zorro (The Legend of Zorro). But he has never written one as preposterous as his directorial debut People Like Us, an irritatingly contrived drama in which a man (Chris Pine) discovers he has a half-sister (Elizabeth Banks) and proceeds to creep-stalk her and her 11-year-old son instead of just telling them who he is.
Why doesn’t he just come clean? The script, which Kurtzman co-wrote with his frequent collaborator Roberto Orci, contorts itself to come up with excuses. Sam (Pine) is a hotshot New Yorker on the verge of losing his job who flies home to L.A. after his estranged father dies. He makes a point of arriving too late for the funeral, which causes his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) to fume about his passive-aggressive ways.
Sam does hang around long enough to get his share of the inheritance: His old man’s vinyl record collection, which is pretty extensive, but still. He is also bequeathed a shaving kit stuffed with $150,000 and instructions to deliver it to Frankie (Banks), a recovering alcoholic raising a kid (Michael Hall D’Addario) on her own.
Will Sam take the money and run back to New York and his beautiful girlfriend (Olivia Wilde)? Will he introduce himself to Frankie and compare notes on their mysterious dad and become an uncle to his nephew? Either of these options would have made for a better, richer movie than the one People Like Us chooses: In order to decide whether or not to hand over the cash, Sam insinuates himself into the lives of mother and son. He takes a sudden and unexplained interest in the boy without raising any suspicions, and he unintentionally leads Frankie on until she falls for him, because why else is this stranger we don’t know being so nice to us? Do you see how colossally misguided this whole thing is?
Kurtzman based People Like Us on an incident from his own life, in which he ran into a half-sister he had never met by chance at a party. He approaches the film earnestly, like a Cameron Crowe picture, and he has cast two hugely likable actors in the hopes they would distract us from the worrisome holes of plot.
Instead, all I kept noticing was how Pine sports the coolest, handsomest stubble since Don Johnson in Miami Vice, and how Banks continues to wait for a filmmaker to put her talents to use, and how Pfeiffer seems eager and ready to start acting again but between movies like this and Dark Shadows, she should really consider finding another agent. This is the sort of hackneyed, hollow picture in which people burst into tears as they hug and tell each other, “I love you.” Seeing filmmakers who have found great success in genre pictures step out of their comfort zone and try something different is exciting. But if this is Kurtzman’s generation’s idea of realistic character drama, then God help us all. People like us? Hardly.
Cast: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Hall D’Addario, Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass.
Director: Alex Kurtzman.
Screenwriters: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jody Lambert.
Producers: Bobby Cohen, Roberto Orci, Clayton Townsend.
A DreamWorks Pictures release. Running time: 113 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. Opens Friday June 29 at area theaters.